Prairie chicken management

Hunters needed to collect feathers for DNA sampling

Two male prairie chickens sparring during spring mating season on the Minnesota prairieWhy are sharp-tailed grouse expanding into the northern part of Minnesota’s prairie-chicken range? Is it changes in habitat, behavior or both?

Upland bird hunters can help Minnesota and North Dakota wildlife researchers in a newly launched study to help answer that question by submitting wing or tail feathers from birds they harvest this fall.

In northwestern Minnesota, prairie chicken booming grounds are disappearing, sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds are increasing and interbreeding between the species seems to be increasing.

Interbreeding results in hybridization, which occurs when two different species mate and produce offspring that is a hybrid of both species. These prairie-chicken/sharptail hybrids are fertile and can breed with prairie chickens or sharptails, which can mix the gene pool of both species.

It is unclear whether sharptail expansion and hybridization is contributing to prairie chicken declines through production of hybrid offspring; if the observed changes are driven by increasing woody encroachment of grasslands; or whether both factors could be at play.

Researchers are asking each hunter to pluck – not cut – five to 10 large wing or tail feathers from each harvested prairie chicken, hybrid or sharp-tailed grouse. Please do not mix feathers from different birds together.

Feathers from each individual bird must be in a separate paper envelope. Each envelope containing an individual bird's feathers must be labeled with the county of harvest. The separate envelopes can be grouped together and mailed to:

Grouse Research
DNR Regional Headquarters
1201 E Highway 2
Grand Rapids, MN 55744

Researchers will extract DNA from the bottom of the feather where it received blood from the bird. These genetic samples will help biologists better understand the extent to which hybridization is currently occurring across the landscape.

Our goal is to inform prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse management so that both species can persist.

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